Azlan Sharifdeen: Taking Local Talent to Hollywood

We dare you to find us a person who is more passionate about music than Azlan Sharifdeen. From playing an important role in local hits like “Chandrayan Pidu” by Daddy, and “Giniyam Rae” by Iraj to producing over 750 commercials for top brands like Mcdonalds, Pizza Hut and Sri Lankan Airlines, his love for the craft has carried him a long way in a land where dreams of passion-driven jobs are crushed.

His recent success involves composing the track for Morrocan film “Night Walk”, the first of its kind to get Hollywood distribution in history. Pulse dives deeper into what goes on in the mind of this creative genius.

Where did your passion for music begin?

I was playing the keyboard when I was six years old. It was bought for my sister, but she didn’t take much interest in it. I remember going to it and it made sense to me in the way that math would, which has a lot to do with music. Eventually I started writing, and I wrote an absolutely crap song when I was eight years old. It was about being around the world when I hadn’t even been around the country at the time! Since then, music has been a big part of my life.

How did you get involved in Night Walk?

My friend and partner Alston Koch has been involved in this project since he moved to California. The producers wanted some music for the film, and Alston contacted me for the job and the rest was history!

What kind of music influenced you when you were writing “I’m Running?”

Ironically the name of the movie is Night Walk and the track is called “I’m Running”! We wrote the song because the plot of the movie is also about a constant case of running. It has been in the works since late 2018, so it is actually three years old. It is a rock, pop and electronic fusion. So it’s got the electric guitars, the British Overdrive based tones, but I would say that it is more electro-pop rock. James has a very raspy voice, and we thought it made sense for him to sing the song since he was acting in the movie. So we went down that line. We were also looking at songs in movies at the time and one of the songs that was hot then was “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots. For a pop song, it has a very dark tone to match the tone of the film plot.

How does it feel to be a part of the first Moroccan film to get Hollywood distribution in history?

I think what is cool for us Sri Lankans is the fact that Lionsgate is distributing the film. I’ve watched so many films with Lionsgate at the start. To have them on it and these actors that I have watched over the years, and to have the first song that you are making for a movie be associated with that is pretty cool!

What was the creative process like when composing the track?

Sometimes it would start with a chord progression. I generally start off on an acoustic guitar or a piano, and this song was made the same way; dabbling between the two instruments to come up with what you want to evoke through the song to connect to the film. Then you come up with random melodies to see what fits and what doesn’t, and then you have a song! The melody and the basic structure of the song took about one and a half hours to complete. I’m also a video director and do a lot of commercials, so video is also a huge component of what I do. So even when I write a song now I think visually as well.

You have been involved in bringing to life some of Sri Lanka’s beloved musical hits. What do you think sets Sri Lankan music apart from the rest of the world?

If you look at music in the rest of the world, they are all moving forward in terms of sound and design. I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing, but Sri Lankans really need to make progress in that area. We need to create something new, because we still sound very 2000-ish. You have to take what you like, for example from the 1980s, and rehash it to fit 2021. We are full of talented musicians, but we are still stuck making music the same way that our idols did.

What do you do when you get stuck in a creative rut?

Go for a walk! Or watch a film. Earlier when I used to get stuck in a creative rut, I would think that I needed to keep pushing and keep trying to write something. But over the years I’ve learned that if you get stuck in a rut, you just need to leave it and move on!

If you were to make a playlist of music for anyone, what would be the top 5 tracks?

OH.MY.GOD. That is such a ****ed up question!

1) Fix You – Coldplay

2) Fields of Gold – Sting

3) Name – Goo Goo Dolls

4) All I Need – One Republic

5) Levels – Aviici


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Author: Anuki Seneviratne
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